In a couple weeks, I’m hoping to answer your questions on Mondays. Until then, I’ve decided to answer a couple that I am frequently asked. Today’s is one that I also particularly enjoy answering: What is your favorite part of the trail?
While I was on the AT, I struggled to answer this question. I loved the entire state of North Carolina, and Massachusett’s Mount Greylock was an important mountain for me. New Hampshire’s White Mountains will always have a special place in my heart, and I think I had an unusual affinity for Pennsylvania. I had favorite shelters and favorite towns, favorite zero days and favorite eateries. But, I think that my very favorite part of the trail was the Greyson Highlands of southern Virginia.
Before I’d reached them, I’d heard that the Greyson Highlands were beautiful and that I should take my time walking through them, but I’d had no idea how beautiful they were until I walked into them. My hiking partner, Quiver, and I hiked to the shelter at their southern end (after taking a side trip to “peak-bag” Mount Rogers) and enjoyed a star-filled night in the loft of the shelter. The next morning, we woke up, began walking, and found ourselves in what felt like another world.
The Greyson Highlands are a region of elevated meadows. The green grass extends toward the horizon in all directions, interrupted only by rocky outcroppings and the blooming rhododendrons of springtime in the South. In my mind, the Highlands looked like something out of a New Zealand travel poster. Their beauty was spellbinding, awe-inspiring. I could have stayed there forever and would still be unable to describe what it was like to walk through them.
And if the landscape weren’t special enough, the Greyson Highlands are made even more memorable by the herds of feral ponies that both maintain them and entertain hikers. The ponies know that hikers’ clothing and backpacks are salty—and that we carry Gatorade pouches—and they are far bolder around us than one might think.
During my time in the Greyson Highlands, the weather was perfect: warm and sunny, with a gentle breeze. It was perfect napping weather, but I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes. Sometimes, I felt like I would forget to blink, as I was too busy trying to take it all in.
I’d have thought I’d embellished the memory of the Highlands in the years since my thru-hike, were it not for having much the same sensation on Glen Boulder in New Hampshire a few weeks ago.
Which natural places make your heart soar?